While the owl may be drowsy in this photo, she becomes a winged tiger come nightfall, and we've got the pellets to prove it. Read on...
The production of an owl pellet is a very necessary bodily function for the owl, but if we humans were to do the same act we would be considered crass indeed. Downright Neanderthal, in fact. Basically, an owl pellet is a giant furball, upchucked via the mouth in the manner of a cat. Much bobbing and wretching can accompany the expulsion of a pellet, but I'm sure the owl feels 10x better afterwards. The contents of a pellet are the indigestible parts of its victims: bone and fur.
Photo: Carma Jo Kauffman
You can only imagine my delight when Carma Jo Kauffman sent along this photo. Had it only been my birthday. In all seriousness, I find this photo utterly cool, and am glad that Carma Jo - sometimes tender of the owl - allowed me to share it with you. On my visit, I snatched a few pellets from the barn floor and did a quick and dirty dissection so that she could see the contents, along with a brief lecture on why owl pellets are made.
Carma Jo took owl pellet dissection many steps further, and she and I believe one of her daughters painstaking extracted and sorted the contents of this pellet. Yes, pellet - everything that you see in this photo was removed from just ONE owl pellet. She's even neatly numbered things - those are seven (7), count 'em, skulls! Various and sundry other underpinnings that create the superstructure of a mouse or vole are scattered about. No wonder these owls gag and heave to expel these pellets!
If a vole could choose its executioner, it would probably opt for the Barn Owl. The end would come quick, with an unseen and unheard WHACK and a fast bite to sever the base of the spinal cord. Hours later, our vole would come back - as a regurgitated compact mass of fur and bones.